Daily Updates

April 9, 2013

Gambling parlors spent widely on Fla. officials

ORLANDO, Fla. — Strip-mall parlors with slot-like computer games such as those targeted in a state racketeering and conspiracy investigation have contributed about $100,000 over the past four years to local candidates in Florida, including a sheriff whose agency was a part of the probe, according to a review of records by The Associated Press.

Nearly 90 local officials and candidates in 20 Florida counties received political contributions from the parlors — sometimes called “Internet cafes” — their owners and their political committees, according to the AP review of county-by-county campaign records.

On the state level, more than $1 million was contributed to officials and candidates by companies with ties to Allied Veterans of the World. The purported charity was a front for a $300 million gambling operation and gave just a small portion toward veterans, state investigators have said.

Some top politicians in Florida and North Carolina scrambled to give back the money or at least explain it. Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned last month after she was interviewed as part of the probe. She denies wrongdoing.

In local races that usually cost much less to run, the gambling affiliates and their owners donated to sheriffs, judges, mayoral candidates, county commissioners, prosecutors, clerks of courts, property appraisers and tax collectors.

The bulk of the contributions were in Duval County, home to Jacksonville, where officials received about $50,000 from the local parlors and their owners. The Jacksonville City Council in 2010 considered shutting down the centers. But city council members instead overwhelmingly passed compromise legislation that capped the number of existing cafes and required them to pay fees and be better regulated.

Allied Veterans and the owners of its affiliates fought hard against the crackdown in Jacksonville, hiring lobbyists and donating to candidates.

Among the largest recipients in Duval County was city councilman Richard Clark who received $3,750 from the Allied Veteran affiliates and another $1,000 from Floridians for Internet Access, a Tallahassee-based political committee with ties to Tallahassee attorney David Ramba. He is an agent for many of the political committees that represent the industry.

Clark said the donations made very little difference in the outcome of the vote on the Jacksonville ordinance, given their small amounts. During the debate on regulating the Internet cafes, “most of the heart-strings were pulled by the mom-and-pop small businesses,” Clark said.

Investigators last month said Allied Veterans spent just 2 percent of its $300 million earnings on veterans’ charities while its leaders spent millions on boats, real estate and sports cars. The 57 defendants, including some police officers, are facing racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and possession of slot machine charges.

The Internet cafes scattered throughout the state sell customers time online at computer terminals that feature sweepstakes games that simulate slot machines. Some estimates put the number of gaming parlors in Florida at almost 1,000, and investigators targeted almost 50 affiliated with Allied Veterans. The defendants say the parlors are merely places where people can legally play sweepstakes games while using the Internet. But Florida legislators last week voted to ban the operations and Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill this week.

Donations from the cafes were made in Brevard, Broward, Clay Collier, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lake, Leon, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Nassau, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Sarasota, Seminole and Volusia counties, according to the AP review. Donations to Florida candidates are limited to $500 per person per election.

Out-of-state gaming interests from Georgia , Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina contributed almost $25,000 to the local races.

Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford received $9,000. At the time, Rutherford’s agency was investigating Allied Veterans, along with other law enforcement. Rutherford said he knew some of his 2010 campaign donors were under investigation, but he decided to accept the money so the probe wouldn’t be exposed.

“We took the donations, business as usual, since we certainly didn’t want to tip off two high-profile police officers that they were under investigation,” Rutherford said.

After the arrests were announced last month, Rutherford said he made $10,000 in donations to two veterans’ organizations.

Jacksonville city councilman Clark said he knew some of the Allied Veterans business owners initially from their offer three years ago to pay for a city Veterans Day parade that was threatened by budget cuts. The city ended up coming up with the money for the parade. But he said he didn’t know all of the affiliated donors.

“At $500 a pop, the amount of checks it takes to raise $100,000, you just can’t know everybody,” Clark said.

Mario Rubio, a city council candidate and brother of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, received $850.

Candidates in Palm Beach County, where commissioners in early 2012 approved a yearlong moratorium on the opening of new Internet cafes in unincorporated areas, received almost $15,000. Most went to the local state attorney, Dave Aronberg. County commissioners allowed the ban to expire late last year.

A spokesman said Aronberg never took a position on the moratorium and said he knew of no Internet cafe cases that have come through his office since he was sworn in earlier this year. Spokesman Mike Edmondson said Aronberg believes he was supported by the Internet cafe interests because “he was more receptive to having a general conversation about Internet cafes at that particular point.”

“He wasn’t passionate for or against,” Edmondson said.

Groups affiliated with Ramba, the Tallahassee attorney, contributed more than $15,000 to judicial, commission and property appraiser races in Brevard, Leon, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Two groups, Floridians for Internet Access and Save Our Internet Access, were political committees.

In an email, Ramba said some of the contributions were made to candidates with whom he or his clients had a long-standing relationship. He said the committees were formed to participate in the political process, just like other businesses.

“Just because the State Capitol is here doesn’t mean the clients are located here,” Ramba said. “Many clients have individual local relationships.”

Many of the companies that made donations to local candidates had ties to Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, who investigators claim was the driving force in the Allied Veterans scheme. Mathis and his law firm gave more than $5,300 to local races. In an interview, Mathis said he didn’t direct the affiliates on how to make their donations.

“That was their decision,” Mathis said. “I gave them legal advice.”

Some candidates who received the donations from the gambling affiliates didn’t keep them, skeptical of why they received the money.

1
Text Only
Daily Updates
  • In Other News, April 20

    April 20, 2014

  • Ukraine, Russia trade blame for shootout in east

    Within hours of an Easter morning shootout at a checkpoint manned by pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement blaming militant Ukrainian nationalists and Russian state television stations aired pictures of supposed proof of their involvement in the attack that left at least three people dead.

    April 20, 2014

  • In West Bank, teen offenders face different fates

    The boys were both 15, with the crackly voices and awkward peach fuzz of adolescence. They lived just a few minutes away from one another in the West Bank. And both were accused of throwing stones at vehicles, one day after the other.

    April 20, 2014

  • Study: Fuels from corn waste not better than gas

    Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.

    April 20, 2014

  • Fracking foes cringe as unions back drilling boom

    After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they’re now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.

    April 20, 2014

  • In Colorado, a pot holiday tries to go mainstream

    Once the province of activists and stoners, the traditional pot holiday of April 20 has gone mainstream in the first state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

    April 20, 2014

  • ‘Capt. America’ tops box office for third week

    Captain America continues to vanquish box office foes, triumphing in ticket sales for the third consecutive week and dominating over megastar Johnny Depp’s new movie.

    April 20, 2014

  • Probe could complicate Rick Perry’s prospects

    Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spent a record 14 years in office vanquishing nearly all who dared confront him: political rivals, moms against mandatory vaccines for sixth graders, a coyote in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    April 20, 2014

  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 19, 2014

  • Documents detail another delayed GM recall

    Government documents show that General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and warranty repair claims.

    April 19, 2014